Emily's Story About How to Combat an Eating Disorder
How do you know you have an eating disorder? Read Emily Latham’s story
By Dr Julie Moltke
How old were you when your relationship with food started changing? Can you remember any tiggers?
Yes, I can remember it quite well. I remember being ten years old and sucking in my ribs. I used to tell mum and dad 'look, feel, feel' and when I ate, I remember thinking consciously 'Oh no, now the ribs are gone!'. And when I could see them again, I used to show people. My mum said it was bizarre for a child that young to care about something like that.
I can also remember my sister being very young and quite chunky. My dad used to say things like, watch what you eat, etc., and I picked up on that and watched what I ate. It wasn't his fault; I was just very observant. I remember establishing vegetarianism at around 11-13, so I had an excuse to restrict.
What were the signs that you had an eating disorder, and when did the people around you start noticing?
I remember one day when my older sister was around sixteen years old, and she suddenly started to look thin. She dropped her 'baby weight' my parents said, but I noticed she was always drinking milkshakes, and I remember thinking I wanted to do that as well.
My mum wasn't great with meal times. She would make dinner, and we would pick at it and quickly, I would say that I was full. She was okay with it, so I would instead ask if I could have a milkshake and she would usually say yes. My dad, on the other hand, was different and wanted me to finish even when I was full and didn't like what I was eating.
It pushed me into a negative relationship with food because I was doing something I didn't want too.
My mum noticed first. She said that I was looking too thin one morning and after that, my friend's mum was telling her that she saw I didn't ever want to join them for dinner. She started watching me from that point, and I hated it.
How did you feel emotionally and physically during your eating disorder, and what do you think was the most difficult for you at the time?
I have had a few different points of difficulty with both of these aspects; Emotionally, I was drained and sick of feeling fragile and tired. I was sick of feeling that I needed to feel empty because it was what I deserved. Physically I felt awful and wanted to hide my skinny body.
When I was at my lowest weight I had a weird reaction in the bathroom, and my mum told me I had to go to the hospital, but I refused and told her I would never speak to her again. Today, I always regret how I was with her.
It was difficult because I was hurting the people around me, and I had no real reason for why I was doing this. I was depressed because of the lack of nutrients; I was feeling low and wanted and needed to feel as empty as I thought I deserved.
How long did it take before your intense focus on food turned into an eating disorder?
I think it doesn't happen overnight, but I do feel like it's always been there. We all watch our weight, but other traits of mine have contributed to my eating disorder: Like perfectionism and depression. I wanted to achieve my goals, and they were to be a victim and to get attention.
Were you aware that you had an eating disorder at the time?
It's strange because I knew it, but I didn't. I told myself I didn't because I wasn't as low as other cases I had heard of in terms of my weight. I knew I didn't have a good relationship with myself and my body, but I also neglected it.
Did you realise that your body image was different from how other people saw you?
Definitely and this is apparent even today. Since I've put on weight, I feel a lot bigger (because I was so tiny) and then someone, in passing, would say 'but you're so little', and I would argue that I'm not. I most definitely don't feel skinny today.
What did you learn from your eating disorder?
That there is way more to life than how much your body weighs. It almost sounds ridiculous that I spent so much of my life wanting my body to look different. And why? How much does Oprah weigh? Florence Nightingale? Marilyn Monroe? We don't know because it doesn't matter, that's why!
How is your relationship with your body image and with food today? Do you feel there is a risk that you could get an eating disorder again?
I think if I'm honest, I haven't completely recovered because it's a long and sensitive journey. There are specific triggers: I am sensitive to how I feel about myself more than the average person, but it's a journey of self-discovery, and you adopt different priorities instead.
If you change your outlook on life, then your attitude changes. Your whole perception changes with it, and you love life and yourself more. It's as simple as that I guess.
See food as your fuel.
See meditation as your fuel.
Maximise the things that made you feel great.
What is your best advice to someone who struggles with an eating disorder? What would you tell the people around them who wishes to help?
Self-love. You need to practice self-love. When you do this, you'll learn that you deserve to feel happiness and not emptiness. You can't click your fingers and feel this way. You need to start your journey today as you don't want to waste another single second on earth feeling any less than you're worth.
For anybody who knows someone who struggles with an eating disorder, you need to guide them and not tell them. I used to push the closest people to me away because they were frustrated that they didn't understand what I was going through. It became a huge strain in my life, but I would say my sister was my rock because she indirectly pushed me into practising self-love. She complimented me and sat me down and told me to shut my eyes and imagine my happy place; A place where I did not think about food for even a second. She made me see the light that shone over the hilltop because she guided me through without pushing me.
What do you think our society as a whole could do to prevent eating disorders among young people?
It's hard. Imagine being 16-19 and looking up to people who have been face-tuned and edited to a different more 'appealing' version of their true self. Like their true self isn't good enough. We need to stop showing the perfect angles of our lives and more of our struggles. So young people can identify with us and see that it is okay and beautiful to be just the way you are.
How is your health routine today? What is your best advice for a happy and healthy life?
My routine now is the best it's ever been. I had a period of bulimia late last year, and as a result, I was dealing with telegram effluvium (hair loss). It was a wake-up call that my body needed nutrients, that you can't expect to feel great if you don't fuel your body with proper food.
I have a pea protein shake every day, and I'm plant-based, so I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as lots of legumes and a whole lot of quinoa. I always get my healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, but due to so much restriction, I have a lot of intolerances.
I love vegan sushi, but sadly my stomach plays up after rice and potato. I always eat around 10-15 variety's of plant-based foods in my diet every day, and I drink lots of water. I don't exercise, but I do go for long, long walks for my head. I put my headphones in and block out the world. I also like to go for weekend jogs and always take the stairs instead of the lift.
I'm active as much as I possibly can be.
Happiness happens when you consider gratitude.
Happiness happens when you are positive.
Happiness happens when you give without expectations
Happiness happens when you love and look after yourself, and ultimately, happiness is the journey and not the destination.
Learn that life is magical.
Life is a true gift, and out of the millions of sperm cells that didn't make it to live, you're already a miracle!